anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘Scandinavian

Tove Jansson

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“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

Tove Jansson (1914-2001)

Beloved Tove Jansson. A woman who wore flower crowns and plunged into the sea. A creative woman who gave us the gift of stories through the world of Moomin. A woman of wisdom and insight.

Jansson was born into a creative family, her mother an illustrator (she designed Finnish postage stamps for over three decades) and her father a sculptor. She learned to draw almost before she could walk, and later she would attend art school in both Stockholm and Paris. Her world was one built of curiosity, and navigating her way through it by way of expression–she wrote, she drew, she painted, she thought. As was noted in The New Yorker, “home was continuous with studio, at night filled with music and the couple’s creative friends. While freedom exists in principle, when you grow up in such a setting, and one of your family pets is a monkey named Poppolino, chances are you will become an artist yourself. In an emergency, mother asked if daughter could fill in on an illustration job, and daughter obliged.”

Winters were spent in the art studio and summers on an island. If you have read any of Jansson’s work, you know the power an island holds—they were woven into her work and personal life. As is noted on the website devoted to her work, islands were “hives of adventure and the setting for rebirth and change – places where you can build your own world.” Symbols of freedom, she and her partner (and fellow artist) Tuulikki Pietilä found their own: Klovharu in the Finnish archipelago, where the two women built a small house where they enjoyed over 30 summer seasons together.

Sometimes deliberate people look for their island and conquer it, and sometimes the dream of the island can be a passive symbol for what is one step beyond reach. The island—at last, privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences. 

Sheltered and isolated by the water that is at the same time an open possibility.

A possibility one never considers.

From Jansson’s essay “The Island

Capturing the Nordic landscape and spirit, at the heart of Jansson’s work, there is a world of tension and contrasts, whether it’s contentment versus restlessness, safety versus security, the fear yet exhilaration of the unknown versus the comfort yet mundanity of home. As Tuula Karjalainen wrote in Tove Jansson: Work and Love, excerpted in The Independent:

The inhabitants of Moominvalley often stray from their valley and are subject to storms and disasters on the raging sea. Tove loved the sea in its various manifestations. She described it in her life, in her painting, in the Moomin books and also in her other writing. The Moomins live in these two contrasting worlds: on the one hand, a luxuriant, marine landscape, with brooks, flowers, houses with tiled stoves; and on the other, the unpredictable sea with its barren islands, archipelagos, caves, mussels, sea creatures and boats. In the tension between these worlds, the Moomin family settles down.

That made Jansson’s work layered, which appealed to both children and adults. Karjalainen continues, “even in these early works, it is plain that Tove’s narrative operates on several levels. It is a quality that lies at the basis of all the Moomin books and makes them quite unique in children’s literature. It was also the case that some bewildered publishers were unable to conceive of books that might be suitable for both children and adults.”

Of course, Moomin wasn’t Jansson’s only world. She created an impressive body of artwork, and penned stories specifically for adults, like The Summer Book and Traveling Light. 

In researching Jansson, I came across some old film interviews with her. In one (fyi it’s in Swedish, if you decide to try to watch), she spoke of the impetus for The Summer Book, a book that I read at the beginning of every summer. She describes hitting a creative wall, that she couldn’t work or write, and she went to her mother. Her mother challenged her to write about a very old person and a very young person.

The idea reignited a desire to sit down and write.

This entire project of documenting women has been about wisdom. The wisdom we seek, the wisdom we carry, the wisdom to challenge, the wisdom to ask. In this interview, I found it so touching that the idea for one of Jansson’s most seminal books, the one that feels like her truest story, was one that was sparked by the wisdom of an important woman so close to her.

There is so much to give, so much to find, so much to enjoy, so much to seek. There is wisdom in tension, in layers, in curiosity, in the novel and in the mundane. For that, I find Jansson’s words so powerful.

Stay curious.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

February 12, 2020 at 11:54

DIY Scandinavian Woven Hearts

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Making things is good for us. Crafting can be similar to meditation and making things with our hands improves our mental health and makes us happier. Making things is intuitive – after all, it is in our human nature to create – and it allows us to connect to others, to come up with new ideas. Usually, investing in creativity results in more creativity.

You don’t have to come up with an involved handmade gift to get the benefit of making something. This is why I like simple creative holiday projects. Even small handmade objects to decorate the house give us the opportunity to use our hands and exert our creativity. That is time well spent.

I always make a batch of woven paper hearts this time of year (featured in my digital Advent calendar last year). These are quite common in Scandinavia. Bigger ones made with stronger paper can even be hung on the tree and used to hold holiday treats, like nuts or chocolates. The perfect way to put your hands to work and get the creative juices flowing.

DIY Scandinavian Woven Hearts

Find two pieces of paper of contrasting color. Usually these are done in red and white, but we’re here to be creative, so feel free to use your imagination.

Fold them both and cut a rectangular shape, with one end rounded. The straight edge should be where the paper is folded.

Cut two lines, so that the piece of paper is separated into thirds. Cut these lines about 3/4 of the way up, towards the rounded edge.

The cut lines create “loops” in the paper. Weave the two pieces of paper together by placing the first loop of Color A into the first loop of Color B, then inside of the next loop, and outside of the third loop. With the next loop, do the opposite, so start by placing the loop of Color A outside of the first loop of Color B, etc.

This all sounds more convoluted than it is, and will make sense when you do it. FYI: the two pieces don’t always weave together super smoothly, but with some maneuvering, you will get there in the end! Here is another visual that I didn’t make myself but that is also helpful.

Cut a straight strip of paper for a handle and glue or tape it to the inside of the heart.

Hang on an available branch or share the creative act and give away to a friend.

Written by Anna Brones

December 3, 2019 at 11:24

Send a Little Love in the Mail

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I made a few sets of holiday cards, all featuring my papercut illustrations.

Who doesn’t love receiving snail mail? Make sure someone you know gets a little love in the post this holiday season.

Some ideas:

-Write a note to a friend.

-Give a card as a gift.

-Send a thank you note to someone.

-Write a recipe on the inside and send it to someone you wish you could eat a meal with.

-Pencil in your favorite quote or poem and send to someone who could use the words.

-Draw a picture inside, or add a touch of color on the outside.

There are three cards in each set so you can even keep one for yourself and frame it on the wall.

You can buy a set (or two) in my shop.

 

Written by Anna Brones

December 2, 2019 at 07:02

Happy Birthday Fika!

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Three years ago today, Fika The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break came into the world. Over the last three years, it has been so much fun seeing all the places that this book ends up. I love hearing from readers when they bake a recipe or give the book as a gift to a friend. I think we could all use a little more fika in our lives, and I am happy to see so many of you doing exactly that.

In honor of Fika‘s third birthday, I am doing a special giveaway of signed copies of both Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break and my latest book, Live Lagom Balanced Living the Swedish Wayas well as an original fika-themed papercut (unframed).

This fika papercut was done as a sample for some new templates that I made for Paper Artist Collective (if you’re in the mood to try your hand at papercutting, you can snag them here) and I think it deserves a space on someone’s wall!

How to enter? All you have to do is subscribe to my newsletter. I’ll draw a random winner next Friday, April 13, 2018 so you have a week to get yourself signed up and entered.

Written by Anna Brones

April 7, 2018 at 04:00

Jólabókaflóð

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When it’s cold outside, there’s the gentle call of curling up with a book and a mug of tea or coffee (or even a glass of wine or a beer). Reading is wonderful any time of year, but if I was going to pick a reading season, winter would certainly be it; when it’s cold and dark, we want to curl up with a good story.

Maybe it’s the cold darkness of the north that has led to Iceland’s popular Jólabókaflóð, otherwise known as the “Christmas book flood.” Not only are many new titles released this time of year, but the majority of Icelandic book sales happen at this time, everyone prepping to gift a book come Christmas.

The tradition has its roots in World War II, when many imported items were heavily regulated, but paper remained fairly inexpensive. The book became the holiday gift of choice, and it still is today.

It all kicks off when the Iceland Publishers Association distributes a free copy of Bokatidindi  – the annual catalog of new book releases – to every single Icelandic household. It’s a season of book buying and book giving. “It’s considered a total flop Christmas if you do not get a book,” Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir told Read it Forward. Just imagine if children (and adults for that matter) were upset because they didn’t get a book as opposed to whatever new version of iGadget was on their list.

Having a culture of books and reading comes with many benefits. 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year, compared with only 73% of Americans. (To put that another way, one of of four Americans isn’t reading at least one book a year.) Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, and one out of 10 Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.

For those of us who don’t live in Iceland, how about creating our own book flood this holiday?

Start by visiting the library. Find a book you didn’t know you wanted to read.

If you read and feel inspired to write, do so.

And finally, in the spirit of not consuming (although, if you are going to buy presents, books are a pretty good option, and remember to be sure to support your local independent book retailer), here’s one final prompt for today to kick of your own Christmas book flood:

Go to your bookcase. Find a book that you loved reading, but are willing to part with. Think of someone who would enjoy reading it. Package it up, and take it to the post on Monday, or gift it to them in person. If there’s one thing better than reading a good book, it’s sharing one with someone else.

This post originally appeared in my 24 Days of  Making, Doing and Being advent calendar. To receive it, sign up for my newsletter

Written by Anna Brones

December 12, 2017 at 10:03

Making Glögg

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“When I first moved to Washington, you couldn’t buy grain alcohol without a prescription…. so I asked my dentist if he could write me one.”

A couple of years ago, a 90-year-old family friend was sharing this anecdote of her glögg making experience (a leftover prohibition thing). Of Swedish heritage, her recipe was one that had been passed down by her father. It always involved grain alcohol, and she insisted upon making it the same way he did. There was no other option. Which is why this sweet woman was in the dentist chair asking if perhaps she could illegally get her hands on some.

This isn’t a story of alcohol, but a story of tradition.

When we attach to a certain recipe, a song, a book, an activity, what we’re really attaching to is a regularity that ensures nostalgia. Tradition is a fixed point on our life journey, one that we can always turn to. It’s also one that shifts with time, evolving as we do, much like a recipe; the origins stay the same, yet we adapt based upon our personal preferences, modernizing along the way, keeping the idea of tradition but at the same time turning it into something new.

Every family has a holiday pastime of some sort. A friend recently shared with me the story of her favorite Nutcracker experience; the classic ballet wasn’t seen at a theatre, but on a television screen in a community hall in a town where she was passing through. And if we don’t have traditions, we often find ourselves making new ones. What we drink, what we eat, what we listen to – these are all things that are imbibed with memories, and memories to come. Traditions tie us to culture and history. They are what keep us alive.

This is not to say that tradition can’t be broken. Certainly, there are times that call for breaking with the norm and creating something new in the process. But I am convinced that it’s not the actual thing that we make or do that is the important part, it’s simply the act of doing it.

***

One of my holiday traditions is glögg. In my family, we don’t drink glögg (i.e. Swedish mulled wine) until the first of advent, and making it is an important affair.

There are many variations of glögg out there. My father makes his with vodka and Madeira, and of course, the family friend mentioned above still insists on grain alcohol for hers (the last time she brought a bottle of glögg to a gathering it was in fact in an Everclear bottle, “glögg” marked clearly with a Sharpie marker on a piece of masking tape).

I think tradition is important, because it gives us something to look forward to, something to celebrate. In my home, glögg is a reminder of the season. The smell of spices fills the kitchen, giving a sensory cue to commence the holidays.

If you’re interested in making glögg a part of your own holiday traditions, I’ve got two versions for you: an alcoholic one and a non-alcoholic one. As always, there are many renditions out there, and these happen to be the ones that I make in my kitchen. My basic glögg is strong and sweetened only by the addition of dried fruit. If you like yours a little sweeter, consider adding port or Madeira, sugar, honey, or even a little freshly squeezed orange juice.

Everyone deserves the chance to make their own traditions. What are yours?

Glögg

1/4 cup chopped figs

1/4 cup raisins

Zest of one orange

2 tablespoons chopped ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons whole cloves

5 whole green cardamom pods or 2 teaspoons cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon anise seed

1 cup whiskey or aquavit

1 bottle red wine, full-bodied

Optional:

1 cup port or Madeira (this will bring a little additional sweetness to the glögg, add more if you feel like you want it)

2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey

Garnish:
Blanched almonds
Raisins

Directions:
Place the dried fruit and spices in a glass jar, cover with the alcohol, seal with the lid and let sit overnight (or at least a few hours if you are pressed for time).

Strain the spices and pour the alcohol into a large saucepan along with the red wine and port or Madeira if you are using it.

Heat on medium/low heat until warm, but not simmering. Strain out the spices, then serve warm. **If you want a slightly spicier glögg, then leave the spices in and remove once you have heated it.

This glögg tastes better as it has sat for a bit, so ideally, make it the day before you want to serve it (or longer). Once you have heated it, let it cool, strain out the spices, and place it in a cool, dark place. When ready to serve, heat it up, but don’t let it boil, then pour into small glasses and garnish with blanched almonds and raisins.

If you are entirely short on time (this is the holidays after all!) and in the need for “quick glögg,” add the dried fruit, spices and whiskey to a saucepan and place on medium heat until the alcohol warms up and you can really smell the spices. Add the wine and port or Madeira if you are using it.

You can also add a little brown sugar, honey or freshly squeezed orange juice if it tastes too bold for your liking.

Non-alcoholic Glögg
Note: This one doesn’t use dried fruit in the base since usually the cordial or juice is sweet enough on its own. Up to you if you want to add more sweetness!

2 tablespoons chopped ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons whole cloves

5 whole green cardamom pods or 2 teaspoons cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon anise seed

Zest and juice of one orange

1/2 cup water

About 3 cups fruit cordial or juice, ideally something tart like lingonberry or black currant, or even a grape juice that isn’t too sweet

Garnish:
Blanched almonds
Raisins

Directions:
Place the spices, orange juice and water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover and let sit for at least half an hour. Overnight is good too!

Strain out the spices, then pour the liquid back into the saucepan along with the juice. Heat and serve, or heat and let cool, then bottle until ready to serve. When ready to serve, heat the liquid and pour into small glasses, garnish with blanched almonds and raisins.

This story/recipe originally appeared in my 2017 digital advent calendar: 24 Days of Making, Being and Doing. Want to receive it in your inbox? Subscribe to my newsletter. Want more Swedish recipes? Check out my books Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break and Live Lagom: Balanced Living the Swedish Way,.

Written by Anna Brones

December 8, 2017 at 06:00

Preorder ‘Live Lagom’ U.S. Edition

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Earlier this year I wrote a book called Live Lagom: Balanced Living the Swedish Way, published by Ebury Press in the U.K. I am happy to announce that it’s hitting the U.S. market this December thanks to the wonderful team at Ten Speed Press.  It’s officially out on December 26, 2017 which means that you could consider it a belated Christmas present, or also, a kick off to the new year.

What is lagom? It’s a Swedish word that roughly translates to “the right amount.” In other words, not too much, not too little, just that perfect middle ground. It can relate to food, fashion, health, work, social life and beyond. I wrote a little more about the book when it came out in July, which you can read here.

The book is beautifully photographed by Matilda Hildingsson and Nathalie Myrberg and I like to think of it not just as a lifestyle guide about Scandinavian living, but a look at how slowing down and finding balance can help all of us.

Ask your favorite bookstore to order it for you, or preorder it online at your favorite indie retailer (mine is Powell’s.)

Written by Anna Brones

November 10, 2017 at 07:00